If you’re a creative person, here’s one vital question you need to ask yourself.

A photo by Tim Arterbury. unsplash.com/photos/VkwRmha1_tI

image by Tim Arterbury via Unsplash

I don’t know if you’ve noticed (huge grin), but creative work means doing stuff you don’t want to, when you don’t want to.

It means writing or painting or editing images or practicing chords even when you don’t wanna.

It means tuning out the chatter that don’t matter – on social media, in your inbox, in your background, in your head.

It means carving out time in your schedule — writing it in your calendar, somewhere, no matter how stuffed with commitments it seems to be.

It means making stuff even when you feel it sucks, it isn’t good enough, it’s not going to sell, people are going to laugh, or judge or attack you.

It means quitting your job, or taking a job, in order to keep creating what you need to create — because you know it’s an important part of your reason for being here, and you’re willing to do what it takes to make that work a priority.

It means standing in the heat of the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it feels, and telling it through your words, through your art.

It means not being a martyr or victim to the circumstances of your life. Cars and appliances break down, kids get sick, and people can be awful and shitty sometimes. These things are always happening at every phase of our lives; falling prey to them as if they’re happening “to” you makes you a victim. Making space in your life to keep going in spite of obstacles makes you a wholehearted and successful creator.

It means gathering friends and mentors who tell it like it is in ways that sustain you and help you stretch and grow as an artist.

It means promising yourself that you’ll keep going, even when it feels like life is conspiring against you to give up (see above note about martyrdom).

It means getting to know yourself in an honest and true way, with no bullshit, no spin, and #nofilter (meditation helps with this; so do therapy and coaching).

It means learning to love yourself in spite of knowing yourself in an honest and true way. Yep; knowing yourself intimately and not letting yourself off the hook when you want to stray from your path does not mean you get to pile drive yourself into the ground. Shame ain’t the creator’s game.

It means learning to be vulnerable and open, both with yourself and others, so that you can then be courageous in sharing your work with the world.

It means having the discipline to keep showing up *and* to take breaks. The work doesn’t make itself; you have to devote time to it. And the creative well doesn’t fill itself; pauses allow your mental and physical energy to return to you.

Sounds like a great gig, huh? Digging deep and doing a bunch of hard stuff when you don’t feel like it? Woo! Sign me up!

Whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional, making things that you feel deeply called to create is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. For us creative types, it’s work that often feels like play — hours can pass and you realize you forgot to eat lunch, when you never forget to eat lunch. If you go deep enough, creative work feels like it’s sent from somewhere else and you are the conduit. This doesn’t happen all the time, but often enough for you to feel that magic and know it’s right to honor it. This is a fantastic feeling. But it’s not all butterflies and rainbows, either; don’t trust anyone who says otherwise. It’s not a full-time slog, but it’s also not a magically unfolding path with no roots to stumble over or landslides forcing you to change course.

If you don’t have a sense of urgency about your creative work, you’ll always find a reason to let excuses take you off the path. We all do it. And yes, there are valid reasons to set our work aside – life can get really big and overwhelming at times. But we creatives need deadlines every step of the way — even those of us with a lava-hot desire to finish a project.

Letting ourselves be led by a sense of urgency that says, “If I don’t make this, I will regret it at the end of my days” helps us to create deadlines along the path to finishing that work. That burning desire also helps us push through obstacles that life can throw our way, as well as those of our own making. It makes the hard work of keeping the faith and getting the hours in worth it.

Ask yourself: If I don’t make this thing, will I regret it on my deathbed? Apply this question to every one of your creative projects, big and small.

  • If the answer is yes, it’s time to start blocking out space on your calendar and to set some deadlines (repeat after me: “Creatives need deadlines!”). Maybe it’s time to get some help with that, with an accountability partner, coach, or workgroup (or all of these). Only we can do our work, but we’re not meant to create in a vacuum; accountability, expert advice, and solid feedback are all healthy parts of the creative process. We need different amounts and types of support at different points in our work.
  • If the answer is no, maybe it’s time to free yourself from the burden of worrying over whether you should make that thing. Let it go, and see what shows up to take its place. As long as you’re clinging to something that isn’t right for you, or that feels more like a “should” than a calling, that worry and back-and-forth is taking up space that could be better used for other work. And that other work can’t show up as ideas and inspiration if you’re weighed down by indecision. Let it go; see what shows up instead.


Why wait to finish that dream project?

Rocky Mountain National Park! aka, my new back yard!

Hellooo there!

I’ve really missed writing these dispatches to you, but I’m back. On Sundays, I’m going to share stories, tips, and other cool stuff that will help you make what you feel most called to make, and muster the courage to share it, if you’re into that sort of thing (my vote is yes, you absolutely should share it!).

And now, an update: After 48 years of living in Illinois, I relocated with my fam to Colorado in May.

Because I wanted to.

That’s why updates here have been scarce. My husband moved west in March to start a new job and I stayed behind to list, show and sell our home of 14 years in lovely Woodstock, Illinois. Then my three kids, brother with Down Syndrome, and I joined my husband and our two pet birds in a short-term rental home for two months while we waited to close on our new home in Loveland, Colorado.

To recap: Two moves, six humans, two birds, three months.

Whew! I know right?

We love it here. It’s been so much fun getting to know a new place, and developing resiliency of epic proportions in the face of so many changes, obstacles, and delights, both great and small. So many things are different from the Midwest, like:

  • “Fire” is part of the regular weather forecast.
  • And, just for variety, so is hail.
  • But most of the time, it’s sunny with bright blue skies and low humidity. ::happy sigh::
  • In some areas, you can be outdoors past dusk without literally being carried away by mosquitoes. (Who knew?)
  • Nearly everyone looks like they’re dressed for a hike or a bike ride, because they are.
  • Being a “Colorado Native” is a point of pride, but newbies are still warmly welcomed, probably because there’s more of us these days.
  • People wear cowboy hats on days that aren’t Halloween.
  • Ungulates! So many ungulates!
  • Oh yeah, and rattlesnakes. Haven’t heard or seen any yet, but I’m told they’re ubiquitous on certain trails.
  • Retailers display Broncos gear instead of Bears stuff.
  • Craft beer and great coffee are considered major food groups.

And so, 30 years (yes, 30) of seeing cloudscapes in Illinois and wishing they were mountains, I’m here. I hope I never stop thinking “Pinch me!” every time I see the Rockies. Part of me can’t believe I’m here, and part of me feels like this was always meant to be.

That’s my update; now on to the Sunday Session written just for you:

How long are you willing to wait?

Thirty years is a long time to wait for something you really want. My husband and I talked seriously about making this move over a decade ago, but we were too overwhelmed by all that needed doing, and quite frankly, too scared to make such an epic change. But! But. Even though it took longer than we would’ve liked, I’m so glad we finally did it. And I’m proud of all of us; we’ve found resiliency and humor and support from untold sources that we’d never dreamed were possible. And things went wrong, too — really, really wrong — at times. That’s where that resiliency and humor and support really came in to carry us through.

There’s an analogy here, right? That novel. That screenplay. That career change to or from self-employment. That side hustle you know is amazing but feels like One More Thing atop a mountain of To-Do’s. But here’s the thing: Do you want to wait 30 years, or three, to fulfill a big creative dream you’ve got waiting in the wings?

I started the Going Deep Writing Workshops when I realized that I didn’t write essays while I was a freelance writer because more easily lucrative writing gigs, plus having and raising babies, took the front seat. But what if I’d just worked on one, or set a goal to publish three a year? What if I’d slotted that deeply held dream into my list of priorities, even if it wasn’t on a grand scale? What if I’d recognized the importance of that desire to write in my own voice and honored it by taking steps to accomplish it?

That is exactly what the Going Deep Writing Workshops are all about; you can read more about that below

Even if you’re not a writer, this idea applies to you, too: How long are you willing to wait?Are you willing to let your life pass by without starting and then finishing that one project you feel most called to accomplish? This could be moving somewhere you love, or changing careers, or starting a business, or writing a screenplay. Wouldn’t you like to be able to say, “I’m so glad i finally did it.”? Wouldn’t you like more resiliency and humor in the face of setbacks and a concrete plan of action to keep you moving forward? That’s whereone-on-one coaching comes in, along with workshops like mine.

I’ll leave you with a question before I share a bit more about the upcoming workshop.

What one project — creative or otherwise — have you been waiting to start on? What’s the biggest thing holding you back? Overwhelm? Fear? Lack of time? Not enough money? Something else? 

Leave a comment here and tell me about it! I love hearing from readers, and your feedback helps me be a better coach and writer, so thank you.

Is it time to commit to that project you’ve been stalled on, or maybe stalling about? Going Deep is an intensive workshop that combines clarity about how and why you spend your time, accountability, and weekly email writing wisdom and group coaching sessions. At minimum,YOU WILL LEAVE THIS WORKSHOP WITH A SOLID WORK-IN-PROGRESS.

The next Going Deep Writing Workshop begins Saturday, September 24, 2016. Are you going to join the next group of writers who are ready to stop stalling and get writing?Note: This may be the last time I run this workshop in this 12-week format. I’ve got big plans for writers for 2017, yo.

Registration opens on Monday, August 29th, but if you sign up to get these updates via email, you’ll get access to my sweet early bird discount! Click here to subscribe.

Here’s what participants in prior Going Deep Writing Workshops have to say about their experience:
“Thanks to Going Deep and Toni, I’ve made tremendous progress on my writing project AND my writing process. The information, insight, and momentum I’ve gained will continue to propel my work long after the end of the workshop.”  —Sarah Parisi, Going Deep Writing Workshop alum

“Life is busy and yet we yearn to chase our dreams. But life is busy, so we push our dreams back in order to get the bills paid. Yet, a longing stays with us that can’t be filled until we answer the call. And this workshop will call you out to answer your own call. If you’re ready to stop being too busy with life and finally follow your writing dreams, this is the workshop — and leader — you NEED. —Angela Giles Klocke, Going Deep Writing Workshop alum

I know, right? These people are WRITING, even after the workshop has ended. Practices are in place, momentum is building, and nothing’s gonna stop them.

Do you want a piece of that? Then join us in September for the next workshop!

Your year-in-review process

toni mclellan 2015 2016

I’m calling this “your” year-in-review process because in sharing what I do, I invite to make this your own, customizing, adding, and omitting things in ways that work for you.

My annual review process is pretty straightforward, though it takes some effort, so I take a full work day to go through it.

I’m sharing this in the hope that it will support you, too. I go through my calendar, planner, journal, and notes from sessions with my coach to answer the following:

1. By the numbers: Earnings, expenses, clients signed, products/workshops, coaching hours, etc.

Feel free to include anything measurable in work and/or life that feels good and/or important to track: miles walked/run/cycled, books read, movies watched, hours worked, trips taken, blog posts/essays written, social media metrics/growth.

2. What went well in 2015?

3. What didn’t go well in 2015?

4. What did I learn in 2015 (including from what went well and what didn’t)? (For me, this is usually the meatiest part of my year-in-review.)

5. What was my word or theme for 2015? (If I didn’t choose one, I can usually look back and see it in retrospect.) Mine didn’t appear to me until December: Healing.

6. What would I like my word or theme for 2016 to be? What would I most like to achieve? How do I want to feel this coming year? Check out The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul by Danielle LaPorte for an excellent guide to setting goals with soul. (FYI: That’s an affiliate link, which means every purchase by you earns a small commission for me at no additional cost to you – wins all around!)

I like to create a new document and type up my year-in-review as I go through my calendar and journal, etc., and then let it sit for a day or two. It’s an empowering and satisfying way to close out the year, and it offers hard data on how I spent the past 12 months in ways that were important to me.

New goals organically spring from this process, which I also find deeply satisfying.

I hope you find this useful. Make it your own, and let me know how it goes for you! Also, if you follow a different process or want to recommend any great resources for reflecting on the past year and planning for the next, please share them in a comment below.

I’d love to do a special coaching session to help you plan and set intentions for 2016 – or if over-planning wears you out and causes overwhelm, we can talk about effective ways you can strip things down, planning-wise, and get super-clear about what you want and don’t want. You can schedule a single coaching session with me to prepare for 2016 here

Finally, my early bird pricing for the Going Deep Writing Workshop ends today – read more and grab your spot!

Until next year, you magnificent human, you. Thank you for reading these writings all year; I hope to continue our connection for many years to come.

The real magic of going deep.

The real magic of going deep

When I first started coaching, I had cute logo and a singular mission: Hosting retreats to help creative people thrive. But after a year, I wanted to broaden my scope and help more people than leading retreats allowed for. (And between you and me, I got really, really sick of writing the word “creativity.”) So I rebranded under my own name — a decision I’m still happy with — but somewhere along the way, I lost that singular focus, which is ironic, given what I’m about to share.

Last fall, I found myself becoming depressed due to some tough life circumstances and hormonal stuff. I found a therapist who I almost ditched after one session because she looked too young to understand the needs of a sleep-deprived, perimenopausal woman with three generations living under her roof. I’m glad I stuck around, because while working with her, I discovered that I have likely had attention deficit disorder since childhood. It turns out that undiagnosed ADD can lead to anxiety and depression, two things I’ve dealt with for much of my life.

Talk about pieces falling into place; so *that* explains all of those notes on report cards mentioning how bright I was, if only I’d put in the effort. Or the admonitions for daydreaming or for not being able to sit like a “normal” child at my desk. The dozens — no, hundreds — of great ideas I could get super-excited about but never bring to fruition. The, ah, impulse control issues that extended well beyond adolescence. The need to move my body while concentrating. The overwhelm during shopping, while doing research, or after socializing with a group (this stuff isn’t just related to introversion).

The biggest thing I’ve discovered in the wake of this diagnosis is my desire to go deep with my writing, in my work as a coach, in my relationships, and with myself. I think that if my work today has one central thread, it’s “Going Deep.” Every day, I ask myself what I can reasonably take on and accomplish, and I also plan for down time after longer periods of concentration and effort. I’d already been doing this, sort of, but usually while beating myself up for not being perpetually out there, hustlin’ and being wildly productive like my colleagues on social media appear to be. I use my time and attention in service of my deepest desires; with my particular brain, that requires some planning, Jedi mind tricks, and lots and lots of self-compassion. It’s all worth it, because I’ve got things I want to do in this life, like adding “author” to my resume, which, you know, requires not just great ideas and fortitude but concentration and focus.

Discovering I have ADD is even helping me as a coach; instead of a setback, it’s become this beautiful thing that’s brought so much insight and understanding. In my coaching practice, I’ve always known that quick checklists, secret formulas, promises of shiny perfect lives, and magical thinking are not what my clients (or any clients) need. You need to be able to go deep long enough to figure out what it is you most want and to really decide to go for it. That sounds simple enough, but it’s anything but. You also need to be able to maintain your equilibrium in the wake of mistakes, setbacks, and the inevitable shifts in relationships that come with any major change.

Going deep to change your life (or business/career) requires the willingness and, with practice, the ability to see around the corners of your own beliefs and expectations. You’ll start to catch yourself when you say, “Oh, I’m not the sort of person who,” or “But that’s the way we’ve always done it,” or “I/we/they never,” or “I can’t possibly,” etc. But as hard as it is, changing the way you think and react is just part of the work. You also have to try new things, over and over and over and over again, assessing your progress, and course correcting — all while wondering when the hell you’re going to see any results for your efforts.

This is the real face of lasting change.

This is exactly how I help people.

What does it look like on the other side of doing this work? When, if ever, does the “magic” that I speak of happen?

  • When, after living in the same state for your entire life, you get on an airplane with nothing but a gym bag, ready to discover your next home.
  • When you receive a harshly critical or even nasty email from your boss, or a friend, and are able to take time to pause, process, and breathe, and handle it with clarity and confidence despite your fear, instead of letting it send your day into the crapper.
  • When you’re able to tell someone you love something they don’t want to hear, and survive their reaction.
  • When, after a difficult conversation with a loved one and realize you don’t need to eat or drink or otherwise distract your feelings away any more.
  • When you realize that being fearless was never the goal, but rather, being courageous in the face of fear. And that with practice, that courage arrives more quickly and easily, which is great, because the fear part doesn’t ever really go away.
  • When you find yourself writing (exercising, singing, painting), regularly, without having to berate, cajole, or shame yourself into doing so. (You’ll still have to give yourself pep talks, nudge and bribe at times, though! This is exactly the sort of thing we work on in the Going Deep Writing Workshop, by the way.)
  • When you can join or leave an event, activity, or tradition based on your own clear choice and desire instead of obligation or fear of missing out.
  • When you decide to move halfway across the country without every single contingency accounted for, just a specific-enough deep desire, with trust that the “how’s” will come together as you go along.
  • When you get to the point where you feel comfortable talking about your business and your pricing, realizing that sales is about paying deep attention to what prospective customers and clients say they need.
  • When you find yourself struggling with something and instead of complaining, distracting yourself, or sighing and saying “Well, that’s just the way things are,” you seek solutions.
  • When you set out to make a big change that requires a crazy-huge investment that will potentially move your business in a direction you’ve dreamed of for years.
  • When you can tell your boss you’ve decided to take a sabbatical to travel the world, and accept whatever reaction they may have, trusting that you can handle whatever comes.
  • When you set out to try something new that feels really scary, and your brain doesn’t lead with every single potentially terrifying thought any more. (They’ll still come up, but not always first, and when you do, you can tell them to go sit in a corner and think about their lives.)
  • When you finally, finally, finally, (finally!) can speak to yourself with respect, love, and kindness, every day and finally, finally, finally (finally!) feel vibrant in your own skin.

This is what coaching does for people. These are but a handful of examples based both on my own experiences and those of my clients. This is what it means to go deep, do the work, and feel that magic — not just as a surge of instant gratification that quickly fades, but as a deep knowing, to your bones, who you are and what you want, without apology or holding back.

Someone recently said to me, “You charge that much for just two phone calls a month?” Well, yeah. I do. But that’s a fair question; you should feel great about where you’re spending your hard-earned money. If you re-read that list above, you’re getting so much more than two sessions with me; you’re getting deep and lasting change based on your deepest desires, assuming you step up. What you get when you show up and go deep in doing the work in coaching is the ability to keep making positive changes for yourself; the work you do radiates outward throughout your life, provided you show up, go deep, and stay with it. Honestly, it’s hard for me to put a dollar amount on that result.

The life you want is most likely possible; let that sink in for a moment. Are you able to believe that right now? You won’t get there by complaining, or wishing and hoping without taking action. You’ll have to ditch living on the surface and hiding from the parts of your life that get rough. You’ll have to start walking through some big waves of fear and self-doubt, and have some potentially scary or tough convos with the people in your life in order to get there. You can get there, and you don’t have to do it alone.

Next week, I’m going to send you a couple of goodies to help you look back with love on 2015 (yes, even those of you who had a shitty year can find stuff to love, or at least learn and grow from) and get excited about 2016. In the meantime, if you’re feeling in your gut that it’s time to go deep in your own life or work, listen to that. I’m currently offering special holiday season sessions, if you’re into that sort of thing. I offer free sessions where you can ask questions and see if we’d be a good fit to work together; why not jam with me and see if it’s your time?

P.S., after spending my entire life so far in Illinois, I’m totally moving halfway across the country, to Colorado! :)